It must be a quirk of my brain that a scene from a movie or lyrics from a song pop into my head when I’m trying to ‘allegorise’ (is that even a word?) a set of circumstances on this Big Breast Adventure. I’d blame the chemo, as I have for any vagueness, forgetfulness or just plain stupidity in the past four years, but this is something my family will attest has been an annoying fixture of my temperament for ages – long before cancer darkened my door. And I’m about to do it again now, dear readers, this time pointing you in the direction of the indomitable Shirley MacLaine as Doris Mann in the late, great Carrie Fisher’s book and film Postcards from the Edge.
Doris upstages her own daughter Suzanne (played by the amazing Meryl Streep) at an awkward coming-home-from-rehab party by belting out the Stephen Sondheim Follies classic ‘I’m still here’. Whenever I feel I’ve just dodged a bullet I take to this scene like comfort food, revelling in the penultimate chorus, ‘Good times and bum times, I’ve seen ‘em all and, my dear, I am still here!’ while Doris thumps the piano for extra effect.
I cannot deny that the opening to this blog is designed to distract from my tardiness in posting the results of my recent biopsies outlined in Death, Taxes and Uncertainty. I’m humbled by and very grateful for the number of encouraging, love-filled comments and side-messages that I received after posting that blog – and I sincerely apologise for my delay in updating you.
To our great relief the test results revealed that there are no ratfink cancer cells lurking in my alimentary canal. We did however find out that I have moderate to severe reflux (that explains the burning sensations), a ‘sliding hiatus hernia’ (which sometimes feels like a fist in my chest) and oesophageal thrush (let’s not go there but who knew?).
While there remains enough dysfunction in my gullet and stomach to cause a great deal of continuing discomfort, I’m now on a drug called a PPI (proton-pump inhibitor) that reduces the production of stomach acid. As you know, dear readers, I’m not an avid fan of drugs in the main, usually because of the side-effects that are often more troublesome than the original condition – a bit like introducing the cane toad. However, in the case of the PPI my GP has put me on, I’ve experienced some relief without any discernible side-effects, praise be.
The thrush and the hernia are the other two-thirds of the story, for which there are no easy medical fixes. Thrush is known to be intractable as anyone who’s been treated for candida or yeast infections in various parts of the body will tell you. In the case of the latter, my GP also told me that gastroenterologists are generally reluctant to employ surgery to repair things like hiatus hernias. Any surgery in the stomach is tricky and can lead to bigger problems further down the track.
So the oesophageal thrush and the hernia are receiving no western medicine intervention for now but it won’t surprise you to learn that I’m pursuing several ‘complementary’ treatments for those suckers. This includes continuing with the gluten-free, sugar-free diet that’s now become part of my daily round, restricting my intake of yeast (yes – there is such a thing as yeast-free, gluten-free bread) and severely restricting my intake of food throughout the day and particularly at night. If I don’t, the hiatus hernia puppy starts barking big time.
Despite all of this, I’m thrilled to say we’re not actually treating anything cancerous. If the biopsies had come back positive in that regard, my oncologist would now be busy booking me into an immunology clinical trial, more than likely one that’s being conducted offshore. And why is that, I hear you ask? If you’ll forgive my layperson’s explanation, here’s what I understand the reason to be.
If there had been cancerous cells in my biopsy results we’d be talking about something in its very early stages. In fact, before I was put under for the snip, the gastroenterologist even remarked on the pre-emptive nature of our investigation into the possible spread of said cancer. So, it follows that any subsequent medical intervention resulting from of a cancer-positive biopsy would best be described as ‘preventative’, highly so.
Call me a cab but we all know that most clinical trials are usually the last resort for suffering patients, not the first. Prevention isn’t a word one hears often in cancer circles – it’s more often ‘relapse’ or ‘treatment’. Even then, the cancers that the trials are based around have to be ‘high-profile’ (dare I say popular) and prevalent enough to attract funding and resources.
So offshore I’d have to go if the travelling lobular cancer show was afoot which, gratefully, it isn’t at this time. I haven’t spoken to my oncologist since getting these results as I suspect he’s sick of the sight of me! That said, I also suspect that he’ll be keeping a weather eye on the levels of cancer markers 125 and 19.9 in my regular blood tests as we move forward.
On 17 December it will be four years since my original diagnosis and the start of this Big Breast Adventure. Through all the hills and dales of this trek, I’ve never felt alone thanks in large part to you, my dear readers. When a post like Death Taxes and Uncertainty receives a barrage of comments and likes on Facebook, I know you’re all still out there, walking along with me.
A wise quote adorns our For Pity Sake Publishing bookmarks. It’s from one of my dad’s favourites, C.S. Lewis, who says, ‘We read to know we’re not alone’. I know I write to feel that way as well. Thank you, one and all.
Breast wishes for a blessed, peaceful and joyous festive season!